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Is There a Worm in the Apple?

Posted by: Nirm Shanbhag on September 27, 2012

AppleApple is experiencing the high from winning in the courtroom versus Samsung, announcing the iPhone 5 and reaching 2 million pre-orders ahead of the launch of what has become the company’s flagship product. Everything seems to be moving ahead with business as usual for Apple.

Yes, there has been as much coverage of Apple’s disappointing debut of its Maps app (sans Google) and user frustration over having to toss out a whole bunch of now-incompatible iPhone accessories thanks to the new Lighting connector. Yet, analysts forecast that the Apple’s iPhone 5 sales will add half a percent to the United States’ GDP this year. One could say that the world economies should be tipping our collective hats to the House of Steve.

Yet beneath the surface, there is much to worry about when it comes to one of the world’s most loved, and most valuable, brands. The issue? With the iPhone 5, Apple may very well have failed to live up to the one thing expected of its brand: technological magic.

The late Steve Jobs is famous for having used hyperbole when describing Apple’s newest products at the company’s famous launch events. “Most,” “greatest,” “magic” and “amazing” were all words used by Jobs and, therefore, Apple.

These terms were used in describing the truly impressive -- the original iPod, the MacBook Air, Retina Display) -- and the mundane -- the Magic Mouse, the low fidelity, albeit iconic, white headphones -- alike. While this is great when things really are amazing, it’s dangerous when the products that Apple aficionados love the most aren’t quite so magical, or worse, when they are… expected.

A look back at coverage in both the tech and mainstream media leading up to the iPhone 5 debut shows that most, if not everything, that Apple delivered into the hands of customers last Friday achieved what the world expected. And that is the biggest issue I can imagine for a brand that is predicated on delivering the amazing, magical and unimaginable.

Simply put, since the original iPhone debuted in 2007, it’s been a series of evolutionary improvements, not revolutionary step changes. As Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett highlights in his recent article, Apple’s latest wares reflect a shift from an obsession with perfection and innovation, to public beta testing and meeting expectations.

For any other brand, this might be okay. But for Apple, the brand so many hold up as the epitome of defining how we use technology, this is damning. It suggests that from the inside, without a revered and reviled visionary to satisfy, Apple may very well have peaked.

People will continue to buy from Apple, but will they continue to buy into the promise that has gotten it from being on the verge of collapse in the 90s to the world’s most valuable company? Time will tell, but unless Apple finds a way back to its core, there may very well be a worm in Brand Apple.

Nirm Shanbhag is the Managing Director of Interbrand San Francisco.

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